Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lemon Thyme Pudding

Lemon is amazing. Pudding is delicious. Thyme is delightful.

And since I had a few leftover yolks and some lemons in the fridge and a few sprigs of thyme that were quickly headed toward "beyond the point of usefulness," I decided to make a lemon thyme pudding.

It's phenomenal.

*****

Ingredients:

  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cups demerara sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 5 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons very fine fresh lemon zest
  • 1 generous pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
In a medium saucepan, heat thyme, half-and-half, and milk until it just reaches a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a medium saucier, whisk the sugar and cornstarch to combine. Pour the milk mixture through a sieve to strain out the thyme and whisk thoroughly into the sugar mixture.

Add the egg yolks, zest, and salt. Mix until fully incorporated.

Place the saucier over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened and holds to the whisk.

Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the lemon juice and butter.

Divide among dessert dishes (6-7 4oz ramekins or similar) and allow to come to room temperature. Cover loosely and chill for several hours before serving.

*****

Chef's Notes:

This recipe used slightly less than 2 1/2 lemons worth of zest and juice, using a very fine microplane to zest the lemons and wooden reamer to juice them. (I would have just used to two whole lemons and called it good, but I had a 1/2 lemon left over from our Sunday eggs Benedict and I wanted to get it used up).

I might up the amount of thyme with the next batch, as I'd like a bit more of that flavor. However, since the point of experimenting with this today was to use up all of the thyme in the fridge (which I did), I'm extremely pleased with the results.

With the remaining zest and juice, I made a loaf of gluten-free lemon poppy seed pound cake. Because I'm awesome like that.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Expectations

"Resolve to Adventure" the Eddie Bauer coupon on the dining room table reads.

What is a resolution other than our stated intention to meet some expectation?

Expectation are heavy burdens.

I once knew two sisters who were as different as night and day.

The older of the two was beautiful and artistic. She could paint, draw, and was incredibly musically gifted. She also really wanted to be an only child. And she made certain everyone, especially her younger sister, knew it.

The younger of the two was an awkward child. Neither beautiful nor artistic, she was your classically fumbling fat kid. And she knew it.

While the older sister made friends everywhere she went and captured entire audiences with her voice and her talents for any and all instruments, the younger often stayed back, away from the fray, and poured herself into her academic studies, as that was where she felt safe and comfortable.

The older sister was often praised for her beauty and her talents; she even earned a full scholarship to an elite institution to study music.

The younger sister was rewarded with high grades, told she could do anything, be anything she wanted, that education was the key to any life she chose, and was otherwise left to her own devices as she seemed to being so well.

The older sister eventually fell in with the "wrong crowd" and began using drugs and alcohol. Despite all the previous accolades, it was the voice of her first serious boyfriend that stuck with her. Told she had no talent and would never amount to anything, she quit high school a few weeks before graduation and proceeded to live down to every societal expectation of a drug addicted, high school drop out, single mother.

The younger sister did "everything right," striving to live up to every expectation placed upon her: graduating from high school, going on to college, and an elite institution for graduate school.

Expectations are heavy burdens.

Living down to the low expectations of others nearly killed the older sister as she fell deeper into drug use and moved from one emotionally and physically abusive relationship to the next. Eventually, she had had enough and began to listen not to the voices of those outside of herself, but to the voice within. She got clean and sober and created a life for herself and her children that, while less than what she might have had with more education and fewer children, was enough and more than anyone had told she had a right to in a very long time.

Expectation are heavy burdens.

While desperately seeeking to live up to the expectations of greatness placed upon her from her earliest years of formal education, the younger sister became perfectionistic and more than a little neurotic. Anxiety plagued her at every turn and she became, in many ways, independent to a fault. She was never one to ask for help, because if she wasn't strong enough to manage the burden on her, or smart enough to find a way to outwit any obstacle, what was she?

When a medical crisis forced her to take a leave of absence from her studies, the younger sister (for just a moment) considered the possibility that suicide would be a better alternative to disappointing everyone who knew her by admitting weakness, defeat, failure.

Expectations are heavy burdens.

I wonder if this is the reason the Christ child - Jesus - grew and became strong. Expected to cause "the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that [would] be opposed so that inner thoughts of many would be revealed" must have worn on Jesus. Yet "he grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him."

How does one carry the burden of expecations of an entire family, society, world? Do we strive to live up to or down to the expectations set for us?

This is the time of year when people are beginning to resolve to meet certain expectations in the coming year. How do we strive to live up to or down to the expectations we set for ourselves? And how much do family and societal pressures influence our New Year's Resolutions?

If I resolve to lose weight in the coming year, am I doing so because I want to be healthier? If that were the case, knowing the power of language as I do, I would likely resolve to eat more vegetables and lean protein, walk more often, and dust off the weights.

Usually, when I resolve to lose weight, it stems from the expectation set for me when I was an awkward, fumbling, fat kid that I would be pretty if, more valuable if, worthy of love if.... I would just lose the extra weight.

If I resolve to do things right, if I read everything I can find, if I seek out the best advice and follow it to the letter, am I doing so because I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well? If that were the csae, I'd likely resolve to give my best effort to the things that matter most.

Usually, when I resort to unreasonably high expectations of myself, aiming to be the best, when nothing apart from something better than absolute perfection will suffice, it stems from a belief that following the law will ensure success, and that I will be successful, valuable, worthy of love if I can do all things right.

Expectations are heavy burdens - or they can be, when they come from the unrelenting voices outside of ourselves. Jesus certainly had unrelenting voices with which to contend. And yet, he was strong and wise; the favor of God was upon him. Different from the rest, Jesus seems to have mastered the art of living up to the expectations set by his Father, god. Jesus listened to and followed the inner voice of the divine that every child of God, every heir to God's kingdom carries within them. And by "every child of God" I mean everyone, no matter what.

Expectations can certainly be heavy burdens. And yet, here we are, at the close of another year, and many are making resolutions - stating their intention to meet some expectation in the coming year.

If you resolve in the coming year to do anything, I hope you'll take time to deeply contemplate the source of those the expectations, and choose wisely the voice you will heed. And remember, regardless of the expectations of others, "the greatest gift you ever give is your honest self."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When Loss is Gain

The thing about pastors is, we're human, too. We're actually no different from the people who sit in the pews of churches. We just have a different view on Sunday mornings.

Any pastor who tells you they've never doubted God is either lying or has a faith not worth trusting, in my humble opinion.

Any pastor who pretends they never have evil thoughts is full of shit.

I am not a nice person, but I like to believe I am incredibly kind.

Today, I may not even be all that kind; in reality, as a child in early elementary school, I was not all that kind. I was angry and violent a lot of the time.

Things changed when I was ten. There are reasons for the change, but I'll not go into those now. Suffice it to say the rage and violence remained, but I chose to direct them inward rather than outward. It took a very long time for the violence to end and the rage to dissipate and healing and joy to take their place again.

Two years before the change, however, there was one boy in my third grade class. His name was Andrew. This is the only time in this blog I will ever use a real name.

I do not remember Andrew's last name, but I was mean and hateful and cruel to him. For many years now I've wished I could look him up, find him, and apologize for the way I treated him. I carry the shame of my childhood sins with me.

But that is not what this post is about. This post is about this morning.

The thing about being a pastor is you end up on everybody's email list. Every church you've ever served, every church you've ever attended, every church you've ever preached at. They all get you on the roster, and the roster never gets cleaned out.

I received an email this morning from the church I grew up in. A young man passed away this weekend. He was thirty-four years old.

And I thought to myself that the world had become a kinder and gentler place with his passing.

This man was a year ahead of me in school. He was cruel to me. Not in the same ways I was cruel to Andrew, but in other ways. Constant torment and verbal abuse that was ignored by the adults in every setting.

He largely ignored me at church, but during the summers, he and his step-siblings would dunk me in the pool and hold me under water, they would taunt me about being an overweight kid from a dysfunctional and incredibly impoverished family. The lifeguards did nothing but tell me that if I didn't want to be picked on, I should go on a diet and not be so fat. The pool management said the same thing.

During the school year I only had interactions with him on the playground because he was a year ahead of me. That is until we were both transferred to a different school district some 20 miles away.

I tried to think kindly of him. He had a physical disability and came from a family not much different than my own, though perhaps slightly more well off. I didn't like the way he treated me, but I couldn't bring myself to be cruel to him. I couldn't bring myself to be cruel about him. Mostly, I just felt sorry for him, because I knew what had caused me to become an angry, bitter, violent five year old.

This all changed one day on the way home from school. There were three of us being bused from our district to the district up north. We rode in a white minivan with "SCHOOL BUS" magnets on the panels of the van.

This particular day, this boy had ridden to school, but he was nowhere to be seen in the bus on the way home from school. I asked about his very noticeable absence, and was told by the driver that he'd gotten sick at school and gone home early.

I genuinely hoped he was okay.

Then, the 25 minute ride home. I was grilled relentlessly about how I felt about this boy. I was goaded and picked at and pressured to say terrible, mean, hateful, hurtful things about him. Repeatedly I was asked, "But you really hate him, don't you? You think he's terrible, don't you?" These questions were asked by the third student and the bus driver, a woman in her late 40s.

I had never thought such things about him and I said so.

The onslaught of questions continued, but I heard a scuttling on the floor and looked under the seats. There he was, this boy of eleven, who had conspired to get me to say terrible things about him; there was the bus driver, a grown woman with adult children of her own, colluding to make a fool of me.

"It was just a joke," they said, trying to pass off their horrendous behavior as something we could all laugh about.

But it wasn't a joke when I was pressed into saying thing I hadn't thought - until that moment; when it was demanded that I admit to feelings that I did not have - until that moment.

I wasn't so angry with this boy or our fellow student for their stupid and childish prank as I was with the bus driver, a grown adult who sought to humiliate me, who intentionally created circumstances and participated in behaviors designed to trap me into saying something they could use against me later, an adult who was supposed to be a safe person, who had insisted this bus was a safe space, and who violated that safety with trickery and abuse.

I exploded when I got home and screamed at her about what a vile and disgusting human being she was.

As for this boy and the third student, I cried a bit. I couldn't understand their betrayal. Weren't we all in this together? Hadn't we all been kicked out of one school to be bused to another, one with more resources for "problem children" like us? Why was I the one singled out as the object of torment and insult? Weren't we all struggling with similar things?

The next day we had a new driver, the adult son of original driver who gave me an earful about how disrespectful my behavior toward his mother had been. I laughed in his face. Defending myself was not disrespectful. What she had done was disrespectful.

I read on the bus from then on and refused to speak to either this boy, the other student, or the new driver who continued to pick us up and drop us off for the remainder of the year.

But I never forgot that experience.

Some years later, while I was in seminary, the new pastor at my church mentioned that this boy, now a grown man, was in a facility, got precious few visitors, and since I was in the area often, it would probably be appreciated if I stopped by.

I never did. I didn't owe him anything.

This morning, I wanted to feel compassion. He's someone's son. He's someone's brother. He's someone's uncle. I thought briefly of sending my condolences to his family, telling them I'm sorry for their loss. But I'm not sorry.

And I do not feel compassion.

I feel relief, because my world feels a little safer and a little kinder without him in it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Precision of Language and the Power of Voice

I am self-conscious about a number of my traits: physical attributes, personality quirks, and things that are uniquely me. The one thing I am most self-conscious about is my voice.

There are a lot of reasons I'm so self-conscious about my voice. My voice, for what it's worth, is not only uniquely me, and not only a significant expression of my personality quirks, but my voice is what it is precisely because of the unseen physical attributes of my vocal folds and diaphragm.

My voice tells people more than I want it to. Others hear my anxiety when I am trying to keep it together; others feel my excitement when I'm trying to express something important without overwhelming; others hear the irritation and impatience when I'm trying to be polite and respectful while explaining for the fortieth time in this conversation that I do know what I'm doing and I do not have to justify my knowledge to anyone; others hear and know and sometimes they even understand when my voice goes silent.

My voice has gotten me into trouble in nearly every place I've ever been. My voice has been a source of immense pain in every relationship I've ever had.

I was repeatedly silenced and made invisible as a child when I used my voice to speak out again abuse and injustice in my home.

I remember clearly one moment when I was about eight years old: though I did not want to, I was forced to give voice to sacred hymns that felt like lies and tasted bitter in my mouth or risk public humiliation and chastisement from my grandmother in the middle of a church service.

Once, in my teen years, I stopped speaking entirely for two weeks because I was in so much pain all words were lost to me. I received praise from those closest for the fact that I had begun to whither and fade.

In college I was told to stop asking so many clarifying questions when a professor would make two completely contradictory statements in the course of a lecture, leaving me to wonder how we ought to weight the information he was providing us.

I used to like some forms of music in some contexts and I used to love singing. Until I was told, every single time I sang for the pure pleasure of engaging the music, that I was flat and could sound so much better if I'd do a little work. This was told to me by a vocal coach who even offered to give me a few lessons. When I sought to accept this gracious offer, I was turned away. The criticism, however, continued, until I stopped singing entirely.

I do not sing now. And I rarely listen to music.

At work, my boss greeted me early one more as he came into the office. I greeted him back quite cheerfully and within two minutes received an email that if I continues to be disruptive in the work environment corrective action up to and including termination would be issued.

I've never greeted my boss again.

A few months later, I received a call from a very angry individual. Rather than get caught up in the anger and anxiety, I chose to modulate my voice, speak soothingly, and try to maintain control of the call so as to find a satisfactory resolution that met both the caller's and the company's needs. In the middle of the call I received a message from my boss telling me I wasn't being loud enough and he expected me to be more myself immediately or HR would be involved.

Those two incidents occurred in the same work place; the remarks were made by the same boss.

I hate my voice in almost every context in which I use or refrain from using it.

I am careful and intentional in how I use it in almost all situations.

It is not just the tone and volume that I seek and so miserably fail to modulate. I am also incredibly intentional in the words I choose when I give voice to my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and needs. Perhaps because the tone of my voice is often misinterpreted by so many I have become more careful and intentional in how I use my words.

I had been uninterested in reading Lois Lowry's The Giver because the synopsis read like a teen-ified, watered down version of George Lucas's THX 1138.

By happy accident, my niece and I were at a book store and upon seeing the book, she passionately urged me to buy and read it. She had enjoyed it immensely and thought I would love it as well.

So, I picked it up and when I was done with two books on my "Next to be Read" list, I started it.

I loved the book and perhaps if I were younger or less well read or completely unfamiliar with Utopian fiction, I would not have known what was going on from page one. As it was, I enjoyed it despite the fact that I could see the big reveal coming from the start.

Though I knew what was going on, I was actually quite drawn to the community Lowry had created. After all, release seemed a small price to pay for a community that operated so smoothly and in which precision of language was such an extraordinarily high value.

I began to feel drawn in and even found myself desiring such a community in my own life, where people say what they mean and mean what they say; where words are chosen carefully, intentionally, and precisely; where tone and feeling are less important than sentence structure and diction.

Until I read Asher's review at the ceremony for Twelves:
"When the committee began to consider Asher's Assignment," she went on, "there were some possibilities that were immediately discarded. Some that would clearly not have been right for Asher.
"For example," she said, smiling, "we did not consider for an instant designating Asher the Instructor of Threes."
The audience howled with laughter. Asher laughed too, looking sheepish but pleased with the special attention. The Instructor of Threes was in charge of the acquisition of language....
The punishment used for small children was a regulated system of smacks with the discipline wand: a thin, flexible weapon that stung painfully when it was wielded. The Childcare specialists were trained very carefully in the discipline methods: a quick smack across the hands for a bit of minor misbehavior; three sharper smacks on the bare legs for a second offense.1 
Honestly, even at this point, I was still enamored of the community Lowry had created. Though the discipline seemed harsh for one so young, the payoff for precision seemed well worth it.

I continued to read:
Poor Asher, who always talked too fast and mixed up words, even as a toddler. As a Three, eager for his juice and crackers at snacktime, he one day said "smack" instead of "snack" as he stood waiting in line for the morning treat.
Jonas remembered it clearly. He could still see little Asher, wiggling with impatience in the line. He remembered the cheerful voice calling out, "I want my smack!"
The other Threes, including Jonas, had laughed nervously. "Snack!" they corrected. "You meant snack, Asher!" But the mistake had been made. And precision of language was one of the most important tasks of small children. Asher had asked for a smack.
The discipline wand, in the hand of the Childcare worker, whistled as it came down across Asher's hands. Asher whimpered, cringed, and corrected himself instantly. "Snack," he whispered.
But the next morning he had done it again. And again the following week. He couldn't seem to stop, though for each lapse the discipline wand came again, escalating to a series of painful lashes that left marks on Asher's legs. Eventually, for a period of time, Asher stopped talking altogether, when was a Three.2 
I cried. I cried for Asher. I cried for myself. I cried for all those whose voices have been silenced through the years and whose voices continue to be silenced today. I cried for all of the words that are used in place of discipline wands and which leave scars much deeper on the soul.

I sought out my partner and a hug of comfort.

The next morning, I went to church, a place where my voice is not only accepted and encouraged but sought out for the purpose of reading scripture.

I feel at home in this community that sees my greatest weakness as a strength and a gift. I feel grateful to have found this place.

*****

1. Lois Lowry, The Giver (New York: Laurel-Leaf, 1993), 54.
2. ibid., 55.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Therapy Session that Wasn't

I am confident that I have a self-confidence problem.

I am also confident that my former therapist would COMPLETELY agree with me on this point. Though she considered it her job to challenge distorted thought patterns in our sessions, I considered it her job to assure me that I was doing it "correctly" when I challenged my own distorted thought patterns. Our sessions often looked something like this:

Me: So.... This is the thing that happened, and this is how I felt, and I realized this is what I was thinking, and I realized that wasn't accurate, so I changed my thinking to this instead, and then I felt better.

Therapist: That's exactly how healthy people confront their thoughts. Therapy is for people who need someone else to challenge their thoughts. WHY ARE YOU PAYING ME WHEN YOU'RE DOING MY JOB FOR ME?

Me: Because it's worth it to me to have the assurance of a trained professional that I'm doing it right?

Therapist: And it's worth the cost to you?

Me: Absolutely.

Therapist: Okay.... If it's really what you want to do, but you do not need my services.

I haven't been to see my therapist in quite some time. Life was plugging along at a good pace and I had nothing going on in my life that made me think seeing my therapist might be necessary to manage distorted thoughts and resulting negative emotions.

Then, I met the most incredible man. And we talked and talked and talked. And then we decided to go on a date. And then he asked me to go on a second date. And then he asked me to be in a committed, mutually monogamous relationship and see where things go. And I said yes. Because when a kind, gracious, brilliant man who makes your brain light up like a Christmas tree clearly states his intentions and is as attracted to you as your are to him and whose relationship interests and life goals are compatible with your own, and when he wants to pursue a relationship with you and you want the same with him, and he's clear, direct, and honest about all of it and asks you to date him, the only answer one can give is, "YES!"

Add to this the fact that he's perfectly beautiful and an excellent cook, and exceptional communicator and willing to have awkward conversations, and he's so unbelievably respectful, puts up with all of my annoying quirks (I talk to my books when I read, I'm not overly fond of music outside of a car - and then low volume, and I ask really awkward questions on a regular basis) and he loves cheese as much as I do, and it was only a matter of time before the freak out started.

I was on the brink of calling my therapist this week. "I can't do this," I thought, a bit panicked. "I'm not made for it. I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never done it before. And it's not as though this kind of thing has ever been modeled for me in healthy ways. I'm going to fail and it will the most terrible thing ever!"

I pulled out my phone, because I could feel the panic rising.

Then, I stopped to consider just what a conversation with my therapist would look like.

Therapist; What brings you in today?

Me: I've started seeing this guy.

Therapist: How's that going?

Me: Amazing! He's fantastic and we're highly compatible, and I enjoy spending time with him. He's kind and smart and funny! What's more, he's super supportive of me and my life goals and encourages me regularly. He asks good questions and invites me to share myself with him. He doesn't shy away from my questions and he's willing to share himself with me. We're both aware that it's new and we're in the early stages which means everything is wonderful, but we're both committed to being open and honest with one another about our needs and expectations and addressing conflict in an open, honest, healthy and respectful way when conflict does eventually come up.

Therapist: That's fantastic. So, why are you here today?

Me: Because I'm dating this amazing guy.

Therapist: So, you came in to tell me that you're dating an amazing man? I'm happy to celebrate this news with you. What do you want to talk about for the next 45 minutes of your 50 minute session?

Me: Ummmm.... You know, that was it. I'm dating this amazing guy. And.... I don't know. You know, I don't know how to be in a relationship. I'm terrible at these things. I've tried before and it's never worked out and so clearly I can't do this.

Therapist: But you ended your relationship with the butcher because he was disrespectful and violated your boundaries despite you telling him in a clear, direct, honest, open and respectful fashion what your boundaries are.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you ended your relationship with the mustache because he wasn't interested in being in a relationship with you and he was simply avoiding talking about it, so you called him out on his lack of interest and ended things.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you have other relationships in your life that are deep and committed and emotionally intimate - with your best friend for instance, and your friends from grad school, and some of your co-workers.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, you clearly know how to engage in intimate relationships. You clearly know how to be clear, direct, honest, open and respectful in communicating your needs to your partner. You clearly know how to respectfully end a relationship that isn't healthy.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And from everything you've said, you're still in the early stages of a relationship, you're cognizant of the realities of the "honeymoon" phase of a relationship, you're committed to engaging in this relationship in a healthy way and your partner is on board. He's demonstrated kindness, respect and clear, direct, honest and open communication with you to date?

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, why are you here to see me today?

Me: So you can tell me that I'm doing this right?

I closed my phone and put it back in my pocket. I've decided it's time to trust myself and my skills and my abilities. It's time to affirm my reality for myself and stop relying on a professional to tell me I'm healthy. It's time to stop listening to the voice of self-doubt in my head and trust both in myself and in my partner, that even if I haven't had great role models for healthy romantic relationships, we can work together to figure out how we work together.

And I'm going to trust that I can do this thing, because I've done millions of things before that no one ever modeled for me, things I had to figure out on my own, and it wasn't always easy, and it wasn't always pretty, and I didn't always manage such things with all of the grace I wish I had, but I did them and I learned and I grew and I love the life I have and nothing can change that. And this time, I'm not doing it alone (not that I ever did any of the other things alone, despite what it felt like at the time). I'm doing it with a kind, brilliant, respectful, incredibly sexy man at my side.

I could not be happier to trust in myself and to trust in someone else.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Key Lime Bars

It was a citrus themed weekend.

Key Lime Bars:


For the Crust:

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour blend (I like Domata brand)

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 1 lb key limes
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Add juice, zest, and eggs. Mix completely.

When the crust is finished baking. Immediately pour key lime filling mixture over the crust and bake for an additional 20  minutes.

Remove from oven. Cool completely.

Passionfruit Bars

In line with the most recent recipes I've been working on, this weekend I stopped by the grocery store to pick up eggs in order to make lemon bars and key lime bars and saw that passionfruit was on sale! So, I bought several with the intentions of making passionfruit bars as well.

I love the tartness of passionfruit, but it's quite a delicately flavored fruit otherwise. As such, these are a very mild bar, which I liked less than the key lime, but which one of my hosts favored a great deal. I also altered the crust and cut back on the total sugar in the recipe. It could still be tweaked, but all in all, it was pretty good.

*****

Crust:
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour

Filling:
Pulp (seeds removed) of 10 passionfruit
1 cup sugar
3 Tbls cornstarch
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Combine butter, sugar and flour until it resembled course crumbs. Press into a 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add pulp and eggs. Mix completely.

Pour filling over hot crust and bake an additional 20-25 minutes.

Cool. Cut and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Savory Thyme Lemon Bars with Raspberry

Having made lemon bars last week which led to some experimentation including Margarita Bars earlier this week. I also felt inspired between making and delivering the lemon bars to make the lemon bars with some herbaceous goodness in the crust.

As such, I present to you the recipe for Savory Thyme Lemon Bars with Raspberry.



For the Crust;

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour blend (I like Domata brand)
Leaves of 15-20 thyme stems

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 2 large or 4 small lemons
4 eggs

10 oz  raspberry cake and pastry filling.


Preheat oven to 350*.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Add juice, zest, and eggs. Mix completely.

When the crust is finished baking, remove from oven and dot with raspberry cake and pastry filling. Immediately pour lemon filling mixture over the crust and bake for an additional 20  minutes.

Remove from oven. Cool completely.

*****

I continue to think I may need to bake the crust longer. Maybe 25-30 minutes. I was using a different oven, so it may be a matter of equipment.

I also did not have lemon extract on hand, and this is quite regretful. The extra tsp or two really makes it great.

In the future, I would double the thyme and halve the raspberry filling. More likely, I would double the thyme and fresh raspberries instead of filling. But, as first attempts go, this wasn't terrible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Margarita Bars

Someone I know, who also happens to be quite special to me, loves lemon bars. And because I love to feed people I love, I made a big batch of lemon bars for this individual. While I was in the process of transporting the lemon bars, it occurred to me that there are numerous ways I can alter a basic lemon bar recipe to make it more spectacular.

As a girl who loves lime and tequila and all things margaritas, I decided to adjust the recipe to make margarita bars. And since several people have told me how much they enjoy these bars, I'm including the recipe here for you, my faithful readers.

Margarita Bars

Crust:

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups gf flour (I like Domata brand)
1 tsp kosher salt

Margarita Topping

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 6 limes
4 eggs
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp orange extract
3 oz good silver tequila
6 pkgs True Lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 350* F.

Line 9 x 13 cake pan with parchment paper.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

While crust is baking, whisk sugar and cornstarch until thoroughly combined. Add the remaineder of th fill ingredients. Mix completely.

Pour over hot crust and return to oven. Bake an additional 20 minutes.

Cool completely. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Cut into squares to serve. If you like a saltier margarita, top each individual bar with a sprinkle of kosher salt.



These bars are super tart, the tequila comes through nicely, and the salt on top adds a delightful contrast to the occasional bitterness brought by the lime zest.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Supernova

The English language is woefully deficient for the purposes of communicating emotions. It is particularly stilted in expressing love. Love comes in so many forms and fashions and ways of being, that a single word could never adequately express the nuance of this emotion.

I mean, I love cheese. I really love cheese.

I also love my dog. While I would run into a burning building to rescue my dog, I would not be willing to run into a burning building to grab a chunk of cheese out of the fridge. I can always buy more cheese. There is only one Liliputian.

I do not love Liliputian more than cheese because she's irreplaceable. I love Liliputian because she's Liliputian. And I would be willing to risk life and limb to save her because I love her.

That's just the way it works.

I love panties. They're my favorite accessory. I don't wear jewelry or make-up. I don't do much with my hair. But I have got a collection of panties that rivals the stock at the local Victoria's Secret. I'm willing to invest a ridiculous amount of money that could better serve the world elsewhere because I love panties. Though they could certainly be replaced, dependent on the degree of conflagration, I might be willing to run into a burning building to save my panties.

I love my best friend. My best friend is amazing. An extraordinary human being who has been by my side through some of the worst shit a person can endure. I love my best friend more than cheese. I love my best friend more than my panty collection. I do not love my best friend more than my dog, if a choice had to be made, I'd drag my best friend from a burning building first and then go back for my dog.

All of these are prioritized differently: cheese, my panty collection, my dog, my best friend.... Yet, I use the same word, love, to express my feelings about them.

This is where the English language falls short.

Greek does a better job.

There are four words in Greek which are translated into English as "love."

Eros - the root word from which we get "erotic" refers to sensual love. Often times, when people discuss the Greek term "eros" they liken it to "lust," but this isn't the case. Eros is about far more than strong sexual desire. It's the creative force of life.

Storge - familial love. Oh, family! How we love our parents, our siblings., our aunts, our uncles, our cousins, our children if we have them. In some ways, it might be the (dare I write it?) obligatory of shared genetic material. It's a natural affection born of familiarity.

Philia - friendship! Brotherly love! It is the root of our words for many fetishes or sexual obsessions, though this is a misuse of the term, in my opinion. This is a love typically based on common interests or shared intentions. This type of love is most often symmetrical - reciprocal levels enagement and investment on the parts of all parties involved.

Agape - the divine love. This is a love for which no definition could ever suffice. To understand agape, you have to have experienced agape. It's simply the way it is.

Even with these four do not encompass all ways of loving and experiencing love.

The whole of my adult life, I've been reasonably closed off from others. I do not share myself. I am not vulnerable. I do not engage emotionally outside of very carefully constructed and demonstrably safe relationships. And this is not good.

So, about three months ago, I decide to start exercising my vulnerability muscles. Whoo! Terrifying.

To be emotionally open with myself and others; something I've never done before because being open means being vulnerable and being vulnerable means (gasp) I might get hurt.

I never expected to be someone who could understand different types of love (apart from the rigidly defined and carefully constructed relationships and love explained above). Nor did I ever expect to be someone who could be okay with less structured loves; to feel safe in learning new ways of loving even and especially if everything isn't even-steven.

Yet, in practicing openness and vulnerability, in exploring greater intimacy, I have found that rather than being scary and hard and painful, opening myself has been freeing and expansive and good.

And I've found another type of love that does not fit the aforementioned types.

I call it "Supernova" love.

Supernovae happen when stars explode, are reborn as a new stellar expression of light. The energy they emit is so intense it briefly outshines every other source of light in an entire galaxy. Supernovae are intense.

Supernova love is intense as well. Incredibly shortlived. Full of passion and energy and spark. It's that moment when you meet someone and everything falls into place and the energy is right and you fall in love for an instant. But that kind of energy is not sustainable longterm.

When the moment is over, there are remnants in our soul. If circumstances do not permit that love to grow into another (philia or agape) one might be tempted to pull in upon themselves and shrink away from further vulnerability. Because once you've experienced that power and it's no longer present, what do you do with the space left behind?

Rather than a loss to be mourned, however, when that love has passed, if we permit, it can carry us forward and remind us that for a moment, we touched and were touched by the most powerful force in the universe and we survived. It will have shaped us and changed us and lighted the way for the next encounter.

And the next encounter is sure to come if we open ourselves to that experience and hold it lightly while it's ours.

When the Storms of Life are Raging

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

*****

One of my favorite British comedies is a show called “Rev.
”  This hilarious comedy is about a vicar in the Church of England, Adam Smallbone, who has very successfully served in a large and engaged congregation in the countryside. At the start of the series, he has just been moved to a massive church in significant need of repairs with a tiny congregation of messy and broken people in inner city London. 

It is never made clear in the series whether Adam was sent to this church or if he chose to go, and I’m not familiar enough with the polity of the Church of England to infer how he came to be the vicar at St. Saviour’s. What I can tell you is that watching Adam try to serve God and love people in inner city London is quite painful. Don’t get me wrong, this is the funniest show I have ever seen. But it’s painful! 

Adam seems to have been thrust into circumstances foreign to all he has known before and he’s struggling to figure out how to use his gifts in this new situation while navigating a new place, a lot of very emotionally needy people who lack appropriate boundaries, providing age-appropriate religious education to the parish school, while NOT flirting with the headmistress and attempting to maintain a loving relationship with his wife Alex. 

As the series continues, Adam finds himself in a lot of uncomfortable situations. He has a secretary/liturgist/treasurer who opposes him at every turn, an archdeacon who insults him constantly, an old classmate/rival who’s wildly successful in the church who plagiarizes Adam, St. Saviour's continues to be in constant need of repairs and Adam struggles to know whether he’s been called to this parish to be a priest or an accountant, he rarely sees his wife who resents the fact that Adam is a priest, he receives a bad review in the press, and despite Alex’s frequent complaints in seasons one and two that they don’t share enough intimacy, Adam and Alex finally have a child together in season three, at which point Adam begins to complain about their lack of intimacy. 

Life in ministry has never been so honestly portrayed on the small screen. Forget crime-fighting, mystery-solving Father Dowling of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. From the constant visits from unwelcome visitors at all hours of the night to the lack of sufficient hours in the day to get it all done; from the faithful few individuals who continue to show up at church for services and office hours to the occasional snide remarks by Adam; from the competition with the megachurch to produce more numbers and bring in a bigger collection to the absolutely terrifying theology of the evangelical hip-hop service across town; from the crippling self-doubt and prayers desperately seeking answers, meaning, direction, confirmation to the complete and utter burn out that Adam experiences by the end of the third and purportedly final season, “Rev.” gets it right. 

As Adam struggles to balance the demands of being a pastor/fundraiser/counselor/teacher with his role as a husband and father, he is not particular successful in most of his roles. It feels as though he’s been sold out by the church; or rather sold into ministerial slavery and he’s sinking. He’s absolutely drowning. Adam is fervently seeking to serve the Lord and focus on what’s important. When it comes to it though, at the end of the series, Adam steps down from his position as a pastor and seeks to pursue a career in the secular world. 

His ministry over, the failing parish closes, and his former congregation is scattered. Everyone blames Adam and they make it clear that they believe he is at fault, verbally accosting him whenever they happen to cross paths in public. But his wife, Alex, realizes that some kind of closure is necessary, and as the series ends, she convinces Adam to break into the church with his ragtag group of followers and do a sunrise Easter service as his final act of ministry to this now disbanded congregation. As Adam stands with these people, including the ever-insulting archdeacon and passive-aggressive, undermining secretary/liturgist/treasurer, in this now closed church at 6:00 in the morning, he prays: 

Dear Lord, 

I seem to be back in a cassock again. You won’t let me go, apparently. Is this what resurrection is? Here I am surrounded by the people who believe in me. I’m going to miss them all, Lord. For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. I am leaving you but not just yet. 

Amen 

“You won’t let me go, apparently.” You won’t let me go.  

How many times in life have we felt burnt out? At the end of our rope? Tired? Done? Just plain over it? How many times have we, like Joseph, been going about our business, discovered what we needed wasn’t where we expected it to be, met someone who seemed to point us in the direction we needed to go (“They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’”) only to find ourselves feeling as though we’d been cast into a pit? Or worse yet, sold off and living in exile? 

Do you ever wonder who that stranger was, whom Joseph met in Shechem? Who was this man wandering the fields where his brothers were supposed to be pasturing their father’s flock? And how do you suppose Joseph felt about him in that moment that his brothers threw him into a pit while they sat down to eat? How do you suppose he felt when they lifted him out of the pit only to sell him as a slave to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver? 

I know I would have been cursing that interfering stranger to the heavens! Initially. In the coming weeks, the lectionary will take you through the rest of Joseph’s journey, his time in Egypt, his reconciliation with his family. At the end of it all, perhaps he’ll look back and be grateful to that stranger who led him on an adventure he could never have dreamt he’d be on. 

While I often respond with anger at the perceived instigator of my troubles, I think I’d rather be like Peter. I want to walk on water. I want to approach Jesus fearlessly and full of faith. That’s what we see Peter do. “Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.” Oh, to have that kind of faith. 

“But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 

Oh. I guess Peter’s faith wasn’t so strong after all. Much like Peter, much like Adam Smallbone, we can focus on Jesus, we can take steps in faith, we can even walk on water. For a time. Too often our attention is drawn away from Jesus and as we begin to focus on the strong winds and choppy waters, we forget about who has called us to this time and place, and focus instead on the storms raging in our lives. We get distracted by all that is going wrong and forget to consider what is going right. 

The amazing thing about storms – literal or metaphoric – is that we are actually powerless to do anything about them. We cannot control the actions of others any more than we can control when the winds blow, the lightning strikes, the rains fall. However, we can choose where we invest our energy – mental, emotional, physical . In remaining focused on Jesus, the storms of life will rage on, but we will still strand firm upon the turbulent waters. 

“Lord, save me!” 

“You won’t let go of me, apparently.” 

It’s hard. Sometimes, it feels impossible. When life gets bad, really bad, it can be hard to see Jesus, standing right in front of us, reaching out a hand. Where, then, can we turn? 

The apostle Paul assures us in Romans, that “The Word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” 

Jesus, the Word, is as close to us as the whisper of our breath passing our lips. When we call out to him, he is faithful to answer, for any “who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 

You won’t let me go, apparently. Is this what resurrection is? Here I am surrounded by the people who believe in me. I’m going to miss them all, Lord. For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. I am leaving you but not just yet. Amen.” 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Attraction

I believe everything in life can be boiled down to either theory or formula and either is sufficient to understanding anything.

It so happens that just this morning, I developed an formula for understanding what I find attactive. The reason for this is because physical appearance isn't all that important to me. I've been attracted to thin people, fat people, muscular people, scrawny people, tall people, short people, people much younger than me, people much older than me, of all races and religious and philosophical backgrounds.

Since I occasionally have people ask me why I'm not attracted to them, I decided to create this formula in order to quantify what I find attractive. Only one physical element is taken into consideration.

This is the Hotness Factor (H), wherein the following attributes are taken into consideration: Personality (P), Smile (S), and Intelligence (I):

H = (P + S) x I

wherein P and S are assigned a value from 1-5 and I is assigned a value from 1-10 giving a total possible H factor of 100.

For me to feel attraction for an individual, they must have a miminum Hotness Factor of 56.

Whovians (W) get bonus points:

H = (P + S) x I + W

Respectful (R) behavior is factored as a power with an assigned value of 1-5 proportionate to the behavior exhibited (basic daily respect gets a 1, having no effect on the score; mildly respectful behavior that is say 20% more respectful than what might be deemed the minimum for a given situation - or more respectful than what is commonly seen regardless of what should be expected - gets a 2, etc), increasing one's hotness factor exponentially:

H = [(P + S) x I] ^ R

Disrespectful (D) behavior leads to a zero or negative product Hotness Factor as D is always equal to or less than zero:

H = (P + S) x I x D

There you have it, the Hotness Factor as it relates to attraction.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Not Fit for Human Interactions

Today, I think, I’m a terrible human being.

Not fit for human interactions.

I broke into my pastor’s locked office.

And that was just the first, and relatively insignificant, breach I committed.

See, a friend of mine works at the church. And she was cleaning the office building. And I was hanging with her because I’ll be leaving soon and I wanted to enjoy her presence.

She’s in seminary and has a paper due tomorrow and she needed resources. She needed books. She thought the pastor just might have something she could use. She needed Rauschenbusch and she couldn’t get him anywhere else.

“I really wish the pastor’s office wasn’t locked,” she said to me as she looked forlornly at the double French doors which separate his private office from the group study room. She turned back to her dusting.

I glanced over at the doors myself and noted several things:

* The French doors lack an astragal
* The latch barely engages the strike plate
* The secondary door has auxiliary head and footbolts applied
* Only the headbolt was engaged

‘Puzzle solved,’ I thought, as I disengaged the headbolt, providing enough play that the latch and strike no longer engaged at all. Both doors swung open smoothly.

“What did you do!?” my friend exclaimed with delight.

“To be clear,” I told her sternly, “my intent was NOT to break into the pastor’s office and violate the sanctity of his private space. I just did it because I could.”

My friend made a thorough search of all the books in the office. Rauschenbusch was not to be found. My breach didn’t even net a positive result for her.

I’m awful.

Things only got worse from there.

I just like to know stuff.

Really. That’s it. That’s what gets me totally jazzed in life. Even if it’s information about stuff I don’t necessarily care for. Knowing stuff just makes me happy. Sometimes, knowing stuff, changes my life. In the smallest and seemingly most insignificant ways imaginable. I learn something new and it opens up a world I could never have accessed prior. Even if I never find a home in that new place, just knowing that I can appreciate something that was completely foreign and off-putting moments before is kind of awesome.

Example: I’m not a huge fan of music. There are a lot of really good reasons for this, none of which I’ll go into here. But I enjoy reading about music. Now, there are some genres of music I simply despise. Most I’ll tolerate. One, however, just rubbed me wrong up one side and down the other.

Jazz.

See, whereas I have a trauma response to heavy metal and drums - snare drums in particular, jazz used to sound like just a bunch of really confusing noise that didn’t make any sense to me at all. I didn’t understand it. When I happened to be in a place where it was playing in the background, it was okay. Until the musician started all that weird improvisational stuff. That just sounded like a lot of discordant noise to me.

Until I read a book about how the human brain processes music (This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel J. Levitin). Levitin wrote that improvisation in jazz is always done from the base melody. It’s a playful way to step out of the comfort zone of the written notes while staying within the basic principles laid out by the melody.

I went out and bought a jazz album on CD and listened to it. There it was. I could hear the melody which was the baseline and support system of the improvisation. Suddenly, this foreign, unpleasant, sometimes painful noise became a beautiful weaving of playful sounds. Listening to jazz became a bit like watching a yo-yo guru. All the tricks and magic to delight the eye as the yo-yo spins and flips and moves about in the air, but always linked and always returning to the hands of the one who holds the string.

I just like knowing stuff. Sometimes, it enhances my life by allowing me access to experiencing things in new and appreciable ways, like Jazz.

Sometimes, it enhances my life simply because I have something, some bit of knowledge or information, I didn’t have before. And I really like collecting information. I just like knowing stuff.

Onto my second breach today.

I had been perusing some information and happened upon an accidental. Something that probably shouldn’t have been where it was. Something that made me pause and go, “Hmm.” Then, I moved on and forgot all about it.

Until I got home this evening. What I had seen earlier in the day came back to me and I thought, “I wonder if I can solve this puzzle.”

Thirty seconds later and a whole new world had opened up before me.

And I’m pretty sure it was a huge breach. I’m pretty sure this is a violation. Epic violation. I’m pretty sure it falls in the category of unforgivable sins. I’m pretty sure I messed this one up big time.

I never do much of anything with information I collect. I never do anything at all with confidential information, unless I’m legally required, as a mandatory reporter, to share that information with the appropriate authorities. I just really like knowing stuff.

Once, about 12 years ago, I found an abandoned journal and looked in the front cover to discover the owner’s name in the hopes of returning it. It was unmarked. I began to flip through at random seeking some identifying anything. About fifteen pages in, I happened upon an entry in which the author mentioned someone in his office who shared the same name. The author referred to himself as “The other …” Puzzle solved. I could return the journal.

I read the whole thing cover to cover, over a hundred pages of private, personal, intimate word-vomit.

“How did you know this was mine?” he asked as I returned it. “I’ve never put my name in it…”

“Well,” I said, suddenly feeling a bit warm with discomfort. “I mean, there as nothing on the inside cover or first page or anything, but I was kind of flipping through thinking there might some identifying information and then, you know, pretty close to the beginning, you recount this tale, and…”

“I’m incredibly grateful you returned this me,” he said. “If you don’t mind my asking, did you stop reading once you had figured out it belonged to me.”

I swallowed hard. “Ummm, no,” I told him honestly, beginning to sweat in fear and shame. “I read the whole thing. Cover to cover.”

“I see. And why,” he asked gently, “would you do that?”

“Because it was a rare opportunity to take a peek into the life of another person, to know … something more.”

“And what do you plan to do with the information you obtained in reading this,” he asked.

“Absolutely nothing.” And I never have. I never will. I just like knowing.

But today, my obsessive need to know and the ease with which I gained the information I sought leaves me feeling like a spectacularly vile person.

There isn’t enough water or grace in the world to wash away the stain of this sin.